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Equestrian Design Guidebook for Trails, Trailheads and Campgrounds

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Chapter 7--Planning Recreation Sites--Continued

Wash Racks

Wash racks are optional amenities appreciated by riders to clean and cool their stock after a ride. Figure 7-17 shows a wash rack that accommodates four tethered trail animals. Some premanufactured wash racks have a chain that latches behind the animal to prevent it from backing out. A clear, somewhat level area at the entrance to the rack allows the handler to maneuver the animal (figure 7-18). Wash racks can be purchased prefabricated, or they can be custom built. When providing wash racks, locate them around the perimeter of parking areas, in landscape islands, or along the outside edge of loop roads (see figure 7-6).

Photo of a wash rack and  in the background is a small building and cars.
Figure 7-17--Metal rails separate four stalls in this wash rack. A
single hydrant and hose in the center serve all four stalls.

Regardless of the wash rack configuration, the water source must be installed in a clear area that has a wearing surface--material, such as crushed gravel, that reduces mud. Some agencies provide a hose at the wash rack. If hoses are stolen frequently, they can be stored in a secure location accessible only by the camp or site host. Riders sometimes carry hoses in their horse trailers.

Drawing of two different views of a single-horse wash rack. In the Elevation View the text reads, Tie loop, Varies, 6 ft, Rounded corners, 2-3/8 in glavanized steel, Suitable surface material, Concrete footing, and 36 to 40 in. In the Plan View the text reads, 8 ft-8 in min. Rounded corners, Clearned area with suitable surface material, 8 to 12 ft, 32 to 36 in, 24 ft, 3 ft min. (typical), and 5 ft min.
Figure 7-18--A single-horse wash rack.

Drainage Overflow

Provide proper drainage for overflow and spills at water hydrants, water troughs, and wash racks to minimize maintenance and avoid problems. Standing water quickly becomes a muddy mess. If the water is stagnant, it can attract insects, such as mosquitoes. Design drainage systems to prevent runoff into nearby waterways, particularly with wash racks, because they produce lots of runoff that often contains soap.

Wet-Area Wearing Surfaces

Surfacing the area around water hydrants, troughs, and wash racks reduces maintenance. Suitable materials include pea gravel, crushed rock without fines, sand, or a combination of aggregate and sand. Sand is generally not recommended for horse areas because horses and mules will get sick if they eat sand and it builds up in their digestive system. Horses and mules rarely are fed or left unattended near water devices, so sand can be used for drainage there. Use edging to contain loose surface materials. Suitable edging materials include concrete curbs, steel, wood timbers, or recycled plastic. An example of edging is shown in figure 7-19.

Drawing of timber edging for a hydrant or trough. In the drawing the text reads, 1 in (typical), Natural ground, J-bolt with nut and washer, one counter sunk in each end of railroad tie, 8 by 8 in pressure-treated timber, 4 in, 50% pea gravel, 50% sand mixture, and 12 by 12 in Concrete footing.
Figure 7-19--Timber edging detail for a hydrant or trough.

Concrete forms a durable wearing surface that is firm and stable. However, smooth concrete gets slippery when wet. Apply a heavy, rough-broom finish when installing concrete. This safety precaution is especially important at wash racks. In areas where vandalism is not an issue, heavy rubber mats placed on top of the concrete may be suitable.

Regardless of the material used, the wearing surface must be sloped away from the water source to handle runoff. Include a drain if the wearing surface is concrete.

Power and Lighting

Before installing exterior lighting, consider the drawbacks of artificial light in a natural setting. Exterior and interior safety lighting should be provided at toilet and shower buildings, if lighting is suitable for the level of development. Reserve additional area lighting strictly for recreation sites with a high level of development. Lights may be helpful at information stations and group gathering areas. If trailhead facilities--such as arenas or round pens--are open at night, site lights are an option. User-activated or timed lighting controls (figure 7-20) reduce the overall effect of light at the site. Figure 7-21 shows one recommended lighting fixture for trailhead parking areas, arenas, and round pens. Follow applicable local and State regulations for lighting systems.

Added utility options for equestrian campgrounds include access to electricity, full-service hookups, and a sanitary dump station. Many recreationists appreciate electrical outlets near the serving table in a group gathering area. These options are only appropriate in a large campground with a high level of development.

Photo of a timing mechanism for lights next to an arena.
Figure 7-20--Timing mechanisms are convenient and
reduce light pollution.

Photo of a large light post.
Figure 7-21--Fixtures that direct light downward
reduce light pollution.


An architectural theme is highly desirable for structures at a recreation site. Match form, materials, textures, colors, and finishes of toilet buildings, shower buildings, and shelters. In general, avoid bright colors and select materials and finishes that blend with the setting and climate, such as earthtoned hues.

The services of a qualified engineer or architect are required if toilets, shower buildings, or shelters are custom designed. Structure design must comply with applicable Federal, State, and local building regulations and codes. All buildings constructed or altered by a Federal agency since 1968, or by a State or local government since 1991, also must comply with applicable accessibility guidelines.

When designing structures, keep the safety of horses and mules in mind. Even where equestrian routes and human facilities are separated, escaped stock may find their way to areas with structures. Avoid sharp corners, projections, or tight spaces, and don't design small openings that attract bees and wasps. Horses and mules are very susceptible to bee stings. They may react violently when stung.

Toilet Buildings

Prefabricated toilet buildings are commonly available and generally cost less than a customized structure. Designs appropriate for recreation sites generally accommodate one, two, or four people. If pressurized water is available at the site, provide riders with a washbasin where they can clean up after a ride. Toilet buildings may include storage areas for maintenance equipment, wheelbarrows, rakes, and shovels used for manure disposal.

The three most common toilet systems available for recreation sites are vault, composting, and flush. The proper system for a particular site depends on the level of development and the availability of water. Proper sanitation requires strict compliance with all applicable laws, ordinances, and regulatory provisions.

A vault toilet has a belowground storage chamber that requires regular pumping, usually performed by a commercial operator. When placed properly, built correctly, and maintained regularly, vault toilets do not smell. Fans may be needed for ventilation--solar fans are an option in areas with no electricity. Composting systems are environmentally friendly and odorless, but require substantial maintenance. Because many users prefer flush toilets, they may be the best option where water is available and the level of development is suitable. Table 7-4 summarizes toilet system characteristics. Figures 7-22, 7-23, and 7-24 show toilet buildings appropriate for low, moderate, and high levels of development. Figure 7-22 is a premanufactured building commonly used at Federal recreation sites.

Table 7-4-Characteristics of toilet systems for recreation sites.
Toilet system Appropriate level of development Water is required High maintenance Easily vandalized Economical Preferred by visitors Preferred by maintenance staff
Vault Low and moderate       X   X
Composting Low and moderate   X X   X  
Flush High X X X   X  

Photo of a prefabricated toilet building.
Figure 7-22--This prefabricated toilet building is a
style commonly used at Federal recreation sites. It
is suitable for areas with low to moderate levels of

Photo of a brown toilet building.
Figure 7-23--This toilet building is suitable for recreation sites
with moderate levels of development.

Photo of a large building that is a combination toilet and shower building.
Figure 7-24--This combination toilet and shower building is
suitable for some recreation sites with high levels of development.

Shower Buildings

Although showers are not a necessity, riders appreciate the convenience of a shower building at the campground after long rides. Shower buildings require maintenance, water, heat, and grey water disposal. Before planning shower buildings at recreation sites, consider whether they are appropriate for the level of development. Thoroughly evaluate and weigh the drawbacks against the benefits. If providing a shower building is economically feasible, include one--the campground will be popular with riders.

Shower buildings usually are custom designed and follow two basic layouts. The first layout has individual shower stalls, each with its own exterior door. The stalls may be unisex or gender specific. The second layout has a single large room with numerous stalls and is gender specific. A shared shower room is more cost effective than individual stalls, but offers less privacy.


Shelters provide protection from the elements, offer convenience, and can add an attractive touch to a recreation site. Incorporate shelters in heavily used areas--camp units, picnic units, group gathering areas, and information stations. The size of shelters for camping or picnicking depends on the number of tables that are needed. Table 7-5 shows recommended shelter sizes for one to six picnic tables. Often, it's less expensive to purchase a premanufactured shelter than to construct a custom shelter. Figure 7-25 shows a camp or picnic unit shelter. Figure 7-26 shows an information station with a shelter.

Table 7-5-Recommended shelter sizes to accommodate picnic tables.
Number of picnic tables* Shelter size (feet)
1 16 by 16
2 16 by 24
3 16 by 39
4 24 by 34
6 34 by 39
* One picnic table seats about six people comfortably.

Photo of a picnic table under a shelter next to a lake.
Figure 7-25--An effective shelter can have a simple design.

Photo of an information station with a hitch rail behind it.
Figure 7-26--Information stations often incorporate a
shelter. Install a hitch rail nearby for equestrians.

Structure Locations

For ease of construction and maintenance, locate toilet, shower, and shelter structures in an area with well-drained soil and little hard rock. Pick open areas to reduce the vegetation that must be removed. Make sure that structures are a safe distance from dropoffs and water bodies. Solar collectors should be placed where they will not be shaded during the day.

Although it may seem logical to locate toilets and shower buildings in the center of a loop road, this arrangement has problems. A toilet building located in the loop center does reduce the travel distance from camp units, but it also requires many trails for users (figure 7-27). Campers will make their own routes if there are no trails--to the detriment of vegetation along the way. A centrally located building also means campers are disturbed when others walk past or through their parking pad. This is especially true if the passerby is on a horse or mule.

The preferred location for a toilet or shower building is along the outside edge of a loop road or at a road intersection. The road serves as a pedestrian passageway. It also helps preserve the vegetation buffer in the center of the loop. Locate toilet buildings near trail access points so riders can use facilities before and after a ride. Place toilet and shower buildings around the perimeter of trailhead and group camp parking areas or in landscape islands (see figures 7-6, 7-7, and 7-8). For user satisfaction, place toilet buildings at least 75 feet (22.9 meters) from camp units, picnic units, and horse trailers, and no more than 500 feet (152.4 meters) away.

Drawing of informal paths that campground users create to the toilets and where toilets should be placed to prevent this. In the drawing the text reads, Desirable toilet building location, Informal trails, Undesireable toilet building location, No Scale, and Campground loop road.
Figure 7-27--Campers create informal paths when toilet buildings are in the center
of a campground loop. Placing toilet buildings along
the outside of campground loop roads reduces problems caused by shortcuts.

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Updated: 10/20/2015
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